Psychiatric illness and drugs not a major factor in most murder-suicides

Female perpetrators killed their children while male perpetrators killed friends, parents, partners, ex-partners, children or their whole family

The majority of people who kill others before taking their own lives did not suffer from a previous psychiatric condition, and neither alcohol nor drugs were major factors in such cases. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

The majority of people who kill others before taking their own lives did not suffer from a previous psychiatric condition, and neither alcohol nor drugs were major factors in such cases. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Tue, Aug 20, 2013, 20:21

The majority of people who kill others before taking their own lives did not suffer from a previous psychiatric condition, and neither alcohol nor drugs were major factors in such cases, a new academic study has found.

The research also reveals there were 19 such cases in the 12½ years to June 30th, 2013, with 46 people losing their lives including the perpetrators. Of the fatalities, 14 victims were under 18 years.

In 13 of the cases since January 1st 2001, two people lost their lives each time. There were three fatalities in three cases and two people lost their lives in remaining four cases studied.

In the 19 cases studied involving 46 fatalities, 79 per cent of the perpetrators were male and 21 per cent were women. However, that trend was reversed for victims; with 74 per cent of those who died female and 26 per cent male.

The female perpetrators killed their children while male perpetrators killed friends, parents, partners, ex-partners, children or their whole family.

Some 14 of the victims were children aged up to 14 years. A further four were aged between 15 and 24 years, two were aged 25 to 34 years, one was aged 35 to 44 years, three aged between 45 and 54 years, one aged between 55 and 64 years and two aged 65 years or older.

Other findings included:

l All but one case occurred outside Dublin.

l There were no seasonal trends.

l There was an average of one case per year during the period under review, spiking at three in 2001 and four in 2007.

l Some seven perpetrators were aged between 25 and 34 years, the most of any other aged group, with five in the 35 to 44 years age group.

The study did not include cases where people had killed others but did not take their own life.

Instead, it focused exclusively on dyadic deaths, defined as “a lethal event in which an individual kills another and subsequently commits suicide immediately or within a short period”.

The study was conducted by Ciara Byrne, a student on the IT Sligo BSc in Forensic Analysis and Investigation course. Ms Byrne has based her findings on an examination of files in the State Pathologist’s Office, Marino, north Dublin, while on placement in recent months with Deputy State Pathologist, Dr Michael Curtis.

“I think [murder suicide] is something that has come to our attention as a regular phenomenon over the last decade or so,” Dr Curtis said commenting on the study.

“I’m sure it has happened sporadically before, but the frequency and regularity of what we’re seeing seems to be a phenomenon of recent years. We’re seeing it on a regular basis. That’s what this research has shown quite clearly. They are very tragic cases indeed.”

In the cases studied, some 37 per cent of perpetrators killed their children, the highest of any category of victim. Some 26 per cent killed their partner, 16 per cent a friend, 11 per cent their whole family, five per cent a former partner and five per cent a parent.